This article, by Atida Lipshatz, is an edited version written during the 2016 enormously damaging fire storms throughout Israel.
Israel in Flames – one outlet to release my pain.
It is heartbreaking to see the fires raging through Israel. To see the faces of the people whose homes are no longer, and to read the estimates of the financial damage.
To think about how much Israeli citizens already have to bear and how much more they are suffering.
This is a piece to explain how I haven’t known where to put myself the last week.
Yes I have made donations.
Yes I have thought about those affected when I plaited my Challot for Shabbat.
Yes I have responded to the requests to read Tehillim.
Yes my thoughts have been consumed by the tragedy.
But still my upset is internalised and I can’t find release.
And then last night at my Israeli Dance class I finally found an avenue to express my pain and an outlet for my sorrow.
In our diverse and vibrant community, there are so many ways to engage with our Judaism and/or Zionism.
From shules to museums, from choirs to charities, from theatre groups to youth organisations – we are blessed to have so many avenues for involvement.
In our midsts, we also have a number of schools of Israeli Folk Dance offering multiple classes through the week , and a variety of workshops and camps through the year.
On any given night there are hundreds of dance enthusiasts grape-vining , yemeniting and doing cherkissiyas to the wide spectrum of music that make up the Israeli dance song lists.
There are many reasons people attend Israeli dance classes and there are a plethora of known benefits – social, fitness and even prevention of Alzheimers.
But another strong motivation for some participants, including myself, is that the music and dances allow us to link to Israel in an added dimension. The words, the sounds, the steps – all strengthen our bond to Israel in a positive and fun way.
Over the years, the story of Israel and her people has been chronicled through folk dancing.
Waves of immigration, conflicts, dreams of peace – there is an Israeli dance for every chapter of our narrative.
Last year we learnt a dance to a beautiful song whose words spoke of “Blessing you who enters/Blessing you who leaves.”
During this stressful time for Israel, every time we do that dance, I have tears in my eyes.
Of course, most of the songs aren’t political, aren’t historical and aren’t significant. They keep us connected to the rich culture and multiculturalism of Israeli society and are purely for entertainment.
Some songs have Biblical quotes or words from our prayers, and everyone can internalise them in their own way. Some are relevant to certain festivals or seasons.
But sometimes the songs can be a very effective avenue to keep us connected, and help us cope with what is going on in Israel.
I am not qualified to describe the therapeutic nature of this, or the linking of different zones of our brains when associating emotions with physical activity – but there is plenty of reading material out there.
During the fire emergency, our amazing dance teacher spoke respectfully of the current challenges in Israel and chose 2 dances for us all to dance while thinking of the fires and their impacts.
One song is named “Land of Fire, Land of Water”– and she described the use of seawater dropped from planes to extinguish the fires.
The second is called “I have no other Land” and includes words about the earth burning – and I could not help but think of how much more tragic the fires are because every square mile of Israel’s tiny country is so precious and significant.
My Judaism and Zionism are so integral to whom I am, and I thank the teachers and fellow dance enthusiasts for the opportunity to connect to my spiritual homeland and my ancestral language through this extra outlet.
I invite all readers who think it may be a nice avenue to express their feelings to Israel to join – as well as anyone simply looking for a fun way to exercise and socialise.
This version is edited from the full version that appeared in The Australian Jewish News, December 9, 2016.